The Long and Winding Road: The Lady in 2020

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Wow… it’s so hard to believe it’s already September; 9 months into the most tumultuous year Im sure most of us can remember. I cant really say time has flown… if anything even the last week alone has been a full year. Our communities, our economy, the way of life we comfortably took for granted, seemingly everything we know has been deeply scarred by 2020’s upheavals.

For those of us at The Dark Lady, 2020’s changes forced a timeline that had been in the works for a while to come to the fore in ways we did not expect… Continue reading The Long and Winding Road: The Lady in 2020

The Three Kings Day Luck Baths

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Haitian Vodou maintains several traditions from an older Catholic standpoint than our majority modern culture; the tradition that’s most germane to today’s post concerns the Feast of Three Kings, otherwise known as the Epiphany.

In old Catholic tradition, the Epiphany is the commemoration of the day the Wise Men from the East arrived to gift the infant Jesus with their presents of Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh; this date is the reason we give Christmas gifts… it’s just drifted over time to something we do *on* Christmas instead of a celebration of Twelfth Night.

Vodouisants work the Christmas Baths for breaking up the last years’ accumulated negativity, but our tradition abhors a vacuum; where there was once negativity, there’s now an energetic hole where the negative used to be…. so we complete the circuit by performing blessings that fill the space where the negativity once sat. For New Years, this becomes a special Good Luck bath priests make for their community, tapping into the Gifts of the Magi to bless the New Year with love, prosperity, happiness, and luck. Continue reading The Three Kings Day Luck Baths

The Christmas Baths

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So… we’re at that time of year again; holly berries, wreaths, carols, and the occasional Peppermint Mocha from that unnamed coffee giant with the twin tailed mermaid on the cups (yes; sometimes I let out my inner Basic White Girl) … and for those of us living in the parts of the world where the snow starts to swirl and temperatures drop, there can be a touch of confusion when it comes to tropical traditions and what this time of year means to those living on a sunny island in the Caribbean sea.

Just like certain days of the week have different associations based in hot/cool, Rada/Petro et al, so too do different times of the year; we say that this is one of the Hottest times of year (again, odd when you live in a place where its truly not even pleasant outside because of the cold, but bear with me) because to us this time of year commemorates the Divine descending to Earth and taking physical form in the body of a child. Continue reading The Christmas Baths

Omolara’s Lesson

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If you’ve been following the Vodou Deep Dive series of posts on this blog (and as their author, I *do* hope you have and that you’ve been enjoying the trip), you’ll remember Omolara, the fictional woman who taught her husband how to accept a pwen, or a hot point of spiritual concentration, in our last post.

I’d like to use a key ritual component she taught him in our example to open a new category here on the blog, “Technique Tidbits”; in this category of posts, we’ll look at simple lessons in the ritual protocols and specific traditions by which we work Vodou. Sometimes, like today, we’ll practice a protocol that will be fully explained later, so the motions feel natural and the later explanation-in-depth will make more sense with muscle memory overlaying the written lesson.

Today, we’re going to talk about the process of pouring water for Spirit. Sounds simple, yes, and frankly it is, but there are complexities that make it a ritual act performed the Vodou way. You’re going to want to stand up, stretch, crack your knuckles, and get ready to move… as we’re going to start with some choreography! Continue reading Omolara’s Lesson

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt 3

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On the Care and Feeding of Spirits

In our first Deep Dive post, we started scratching the surface of Vodou’s philosophical underpinnings and the deep mysteries behind what we do; we jumped into the start of Colonial history for part 2, but today, we’re gonna get back into the philosophies behind How Things Work.

As we’ve mentioned so far, the African root philosophies that would birth Haitian Vodou in the cauldron of the New World shared the idea that all things are made of or contain a particular substance, or energy, that our limited language skills in English can only approximate as “Spirit”. This substance can enter into interactive relationships with other forms of energy, including human beings.

Now, before you jump out at me with a “But Houngan Matt, isn’t that too big of a jump to be believed? I mean, we’re getting into Xenu territory here….”, Id like to use a few examples from normal daily life around us to describe what I mean.

If you have a farm, a garden, or for you deep-city dwellers, maybe some houseplants, you’ll know that these are living beings Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt 3

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 2

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It can very easily be said, with full sincerity, that the history of Vodou is the history of Haiti, and in turn, the history of Haiti is the history of North America as a whole.

We only really get partial information passed to us in this country’s school system, namely choice little cleaned up pieces and factoids about how Europeans brought Africans as slaves to Haiti, the slaves rebelled and killed the Europeans in the Haitian Rebellion, and that somewhere along the way, Vodou happened. If you listen to the Pat Robertsons of the world, it seems that a pact with the Devil wrought horror upon horror and keeps the Haitians trapped in the poorest nation in the West, simultaneously existing to save and condemn. Generally the speaker’s perspective is entirely Eurocentric; either it speaks of the duty European descendants share in “saving” through Mission duty and charity, or it speaks bitterly of what the Europeans “lost” to revolution and violence.

Either way, Vodou… just happened. Sometimes they’ll say the slaves’ African beliefs fueled their rage and their revolt… but that just points in blanket-statement fashion to an entire continent and pretends that not only were those primitive people easily snared and harvested wholesale by roving bands of slavers, but also that they seemingly shared a single belief system across the entire landmass, and of course that belief system is so simple it’s entirely encapsulated in the word “African”. Are you noticing a trend here? We do the same with the “Native Americans” any time the question of smudging with Sage comes into conversation… but anyway… that’s pretty much where the story closes. Haiti happened in a paroxysm of bloody revolt, and Vodou… just happened.

For Part 2 of our Deep Dive, lets put aside the theoretical topics and philosophies of the previous post for a moment and switch over to History; we’ll bounce back in the next post, and we’ll piece together more as we look back and forth between the underpinnings and the overview.

One of the fascinating aspects we find when we start honestly looking into Haitian Vodou’s formative stages is an area of history that Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 2

The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 1

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Have you ever noticed, when you search for information about Vodou, especially from the Haitian perspective, that everything available for reading (or watching, with the rise of Vodou video on sites like Youtube) jumps to the how-to-work-with-named-spirits parts of the practice, but that nowhere is there information about the beliefs and the underpinnings of Vodou as a culture/religion/religiomagical practice?

Why is that?

For Vodouisants in Haiti, the answer is oddly simple; people raised in the culture, its religion, and the religions beliefs are steeped in the information from birth. While the information that is held behind the doors of the djevo/initiation chamber is still held only by those who have passed the doors, the underpinnings of the religion are freely known and culturally accepted because of simple immersion.

When it comes to foreigners, though, the story is different… Continue reading The Vodou Deep Dive, pt. 1

A Dangerous Woman

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A couple of years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Vodou ceremony hosted by Societe La Fraicheur Belle Fleur Guinea, home of several dear friends who are themselves great pleasures of living here in the Crescent City. Their House and mine are friendly to one another and jokingly we refer to ourselves as cousin families; after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, one of their houngans was displaced to Boston, where I got to meet and befriend him. After he moved back to New Orleans, his was one of the main voices that convinced me to follow and move to the Deep South.

*maybe one day I’ll interview him for this blog; we’ll keep our fingers crossed.*

Anyway, today’s post is brought about both by a short discussion that took place at that celebration and by an email I received from a well-meaning questioner… Continue reading A Dangerous Woman

The Met Tet, or the Guardian of the Head

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A common thread shared by the many different religions in the West African Diaspora is the idea that each person has a special connection to a particular spirit within that tradition, and that when the individual becomes an initiate they will be ritually marked as a child of that entity, receive that entity’s mysteries, or any other possible language that could be used to describe the sealing of the relationship, and Vodou is, of course, one that many think of first.

That said, the most famous instances come from the Yoruba-language-speaking peoples that Vodou knows as the Nago Nation in religions such as Lukumi and Candomble, where the process is known as Making the Saint, or Crowning. In those traditions, the individual’s main protective spirit is public knowledge as, passing that ceremony, the now-ordained individual is known to have received and become a priest/ess of that particular spirit’s mysteries.

Where the different religions of the African Diaspora begin to differ, however, is in the cosmological cores the traditions are wound around; to the adherents of Yoruba-language-speaking-people’s descendent traditions, the cosmology comes from an ethnic group historically found centered around what is now the nation of Nigeria. While Haiti inherited quite a bit from that ethnic group (including some of our most famous spirits!), the cosmology *we* inherited comes mostly from a territory a bit to the north of Nigeria in what is now Benin… centered in the Fon and Gbwe ethno-linguistic groups. (We’ll take a deep dive into cosmology soon, I promise).

While Vodou certainly shares the idea of a central guiding and protective spirit for each individual, there are some major differences in how we handle the idea when compared to the Diasporic religions around us. Continue reading The Met Tet, or the Guardian of the Head

The Soul and the Body

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Unlike many commonly known Western spiritualities, with their focus on the corporeal body and immortal soul as dualist identities, Vodou looks at the individual human in a unique way, composed of many separate but unified pieces, held together by being alive and flexible in their arrangement. The Western view of a Body animated by a singular Soul is comparatively simple in relation to the Vodou vision of the many factors that come together as the basic ingredients brought together to make a person.

These pieces are thought of as placed by God during the creation of the individual life, and upon death are ritually separated and allowed to go to their separate destinations.

The body is, obviously,  the most physical of the pieces, and itself is viewed in pretty typical fashion. In Kreyol it is called the kò kadavr, corps cadavre in French, basically the ‘physical body’ or ‘body/corpse’ if you will. Continue reading The Soul and the Body